A Line Unwinding

It is there at the beginning of each day, and again at its end, like a home you’ve always known. It unfurls like a ribbon through mist and glare, rising and falling to the shifting tenure of the weather, a place of processionals sung by skylark and peewit and plover. And when it slips like a knife between sheeting rains it carves open the invisible moors, showing us the way, taking us alongside stone walls still standing after centuries alone and past hedges twined like lover’s arms, or over stile and amber brook, where rushing floods rinse the hill-colours away. But always there, on the horizon or behind us, a line unwinding in the distance.

Grooved by long and repeated passage, the path follows ancient rights of way, tracks in the past service of packmen and peddlers, miners and monks. It is the road of old community, knotting together a parish of lone outposts. What men and women, I wonder, have graced these earthen veins, looked up to see the same darkening hills and meadows flush with buttercups, felt the warm edge of a storm upon skin, the slanting grey showers racing across a valley to overtake them. What men and women have leaned forward over the ages, buried their shoulders into a northeasterly to forge ahead with their lives, following a line unwinding.

What is a path but a line never arriving, wending and weaving like the way of a river, or the wind that sways through lush summer woods? What is a path but the mind unloosening, let free to find a home of its own, to sheer clean like a scythe through barley and rye, or push grasses aside beneath glowering skies, to be one with our feet and grounded in earth?

What is a path but the steps that we take?

42 thoughts on “A Line Unwinding

  1. Julian, this is beautiful, poetic, wistful. It truly evokes those summer days on the moors. I hope your walk across the country was inspiring, restful and exhilarating. Thanks also for sharing these photos, each one of which made me want to walk on into the picture, to wherever the path leads.

    I haven’t yet read your piece in Earthlines2, but I’m looking forward to it

    best wishes

    Ian

    1. Delighted the piece resonated in this way, Ian. The walk itself instigated so many ideas and images, reminding me of a wonderful line by Rebecca Solnit: “Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” The walk was all what you mention: inspiring, restful, exhilarating, as well solitary and communal at the same time, drenching, full of laughter and small wonders. Like any walk, the path became a world of its own.

      Also looking forward to reading your EarthLines essay. I’m saving it for last!

      Best wishes and thanks for the generous words,

      Julian

  2. Beautifully weighted words and a fine compendium of pictures, Hoff. Sorry to be so prosaic, but is that a new/different camera? You can’t have taken those on your wee mini-marvel, surely?

    1. Thanks kindly, Pete, particularly knowing you’ve passed over and along a great many paths yourself over the years! The “wee mini-marvel” as you wonderfully describe it did me well for a very long time, but from about last autumn I’ve been using a new camera. Still wee in the scale of things, but with the ability to craft a far finer image. For your interest, it’s one of the Micro Four Thirds systems which is mirrorless and therefore still small enough for me to take up mountains and through reed beds without any trouble, an Olympus E-PL1. The images themselves open up with a click to a nice size on the post as well. Hope all is well, my friend.

      1. All well here, Hoff. Looking forward to further walk-related postage. Use a micro four thirds as well these days, same reasons as you. Never venture much beyond the intelligent auto setting though; recourse to unintelligent manual often leads to disappointment. Much love from sunny Brighton xxx

    1. What a lovely comment to find this morning! So pleased the post reached you in this way, and many thanks for your generous words in reply. Much appreciated…

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  3. Beautiful – love the series aspect of the ribbon running through the images and the words unfurl beautifully too. How ever changing the British landscape is!

    1. Thank you, Diana – delighted that the post spoke to you in this way, and being back it was wonderful to note the very rich diversity of British landscapes that you mention. For such a relatively small place, there is a world of shifting difference and mood about its land. Time for you to get up North and see where it takes your work!

      Cheers,
      Julian

  4. There’s nothing in the world more appealing than a path – especially one with a twist or a bend that entices you around the corner. I love your winding, enticing sentences, and the little “marker phrases” along the way: mist and glare, miners and monks, earthen veins. So real, I’m almost there – in fact, I think I’ll head out to the woods and fine some sliver of a deer trail. Thanks for the inspiration, as a writer and a pathfinder! You make a great leader, Julian.

    1. Many thanks, Jenny, for your kind and supportive thoughts as always. I love how you find small phrases and word combinations that speak to you, either in meaning or sound. I deeply appreciate your attention to these details; thanks for taking the time and care to notice and inspire me with you generous and spirited words.

      My very best wishes,

      Julian

  5. I have thought so much of paths recently. Europe does that to me. All the cobblestone, the narrow alleyways. But then I come home to young Minnesota and find paths here, too, or more accurately, remember them, and what I love about each one is the way they are not a paved road, but more like an invitation. Who knows where they lead? And does that even really matter.

    Lovely as always, Julian. So glad to find another post from you. :)

    1. I know that feeling of finding paths more easily in Europe, Emily, so it’s great to hear of returning to discover them near your home as well. Whether obvious or subtle, we’re surrounded by paths of some form or another, and those lesser known byways are often the most enriching to explore. Hope you’ve had a marvellous journey yourself, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the images and words that are emerging from it!

      Many thanks for the good words,

      Julian

  6. Wonderful post and images Julian and what a great line to end with: “What is a path but the steps that we take?”. I also love that idea of paths as time materialised as a mark on the landscape. The evolutions of ways and routes by folk and animals over many many years. I also like to see the ‘desire paths’ that often evolve in urban landscapes resisting the attempts of planners to channel footfall in a particular way. Finally, from my own recent holiday, I was delighted to come across one of the causey paths when heavy mist came down on the moor and I could barely see 10 feet in front of me. A reminder that any path will at lead us somewhere! Thanks Julian.

    1. This is wonderful response to the post, and full of ideas. How paths are deepened and nurtured by repeated use, both of people and animals, but also how cities have their own elaborate network of paths which often go against the grain of its expected design. These are almost always the paths of most interest. You sum it up in such an elegant way: “resisting the attempts of planners to channel footfall…”

      Thanks for your thoughts and generous words here – much appreciated. And also pleased to hear that a path eased you through mist in much the same way they helped me! Cheers, and happy wanderings…

  7. Great images of paths and love this line: ” It is the road of old community, knotting together a parish of lone outposts.” Living in the city, this still resonates.

  8. Well done, as always, Julian. Great selection of images and good job of helping us focus on what is often overlooked. Was just reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, at the point where she realizes her affinity for the path – whatever form it may take – in front of her as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail.

    1. Many thanks, Lorne. I’ve been seeing a fair bit of good press about “Wild” and think I should be adding it to my ever-lengthening list of books to be read this summer (next winter?…). Deeply pleased that you enjoyed the post, and hope all is well. Cheers!

  9. Wonderful post – sublime and beautiful, as always, Julian… So much wonderful imagery and description… ‘…a place of processionals sung by skylark and peewit and plover’ – I love that! There’s a kind of meditation in following the ‘line unwinding’ and feeling the connection with the earth beneath our feet, our senses alert to the land, weather and life around us. You capture all that – and that sense of walking into direct awareness of past and future – so perfectly.

    I was born within a stone’s throw of the North Downs and Pilgrim’s Way, and as a child, the old holloways over the Downs filled me with fascination (as indeed they still do today). They seem totally alive with echoes of past people and happening, worn away by so many generations of footsteps. Magical places. I love your photos – they make my feet itch to follow the trail!

    Congratulations on your marvellous article in EarthLines magazine. I opened my copy yesterday, and there you were! A *beautiful* piece of writing!

    All the very best,

    Melanie

    1. Thanks ever so much, Melanie, as always, for your wonderfully poetic reply! You’ve got me thinking about holloways and pilgrim’s ways, and the echoes of feet down the ages. It must have been a marvellous, and evocative, place to grow up in. So pleased you liked my piece in EarthLines, a terrific new magazine in my opinion, that I think would really suit your work as well. Hope the words are flowing, my friend.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  10. Yes! Indeed a pilgrimage to nowhere except one foot in front of the other..A lovely set of images also- have you considered using photography in a non- illustrative way? You a have a good eye and of course a writers sense of narrative…Have you (re?) visited the works of Richard Long and Hamish Fulton who both use walking, the land, photography and the word in their art.? would love to do a long walk with you sometime…
    Love Sid

    1. Thanks, Sid! Would love to do a long-distance walk together as well sometime. Must get thinking where we should go! I know the works of Richard Long fairly well, and find them extremely appealing and evocative, but Hamish Fulton is new to me. I’ll have a look. As to the question of non-illustrative images, I find that the words and photos stem from each other, as though they work in tandem to explore an idea. While one of these days I may work in a more non-illustrative way, for the time being I’m enjoying how they complement. But the more I use images, the more they might begin to live a life of their own. Thanks for the interesting suggestion!

  11. These paths make me think of the “paths” of my life: some are gorgeous and you want them to last, others are scary, and some make you wonder if you’re on a path at all!
    Thanks for another great treat!

    1. I love that you bring to this post your own very personal take on what those paths might constitute and represent, Savvy Sister. I think each of us hold close an idea of paths, and you’ve articulated that so well, particularly when you “wonder if you’re on one at all!”

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  12. A beautiful post, Julian. Like you, I am intrigued by the nature of paths and the notion that a path is nothing more than that made up by the steps we make. I presume that most, if not all, of these images come from your recent coast to coast walk in northern England. I particularlly love the paths made from stone slabs.
    Lately I seem to have been discovering a few modest grren lanes and holloways myself here in Norfolk – paths sunk into the ground by repeated footfall. I found an especially evocative one close to a ruined church in a South Norfolk wood and realised that centuries ago it would have witnessed many village feet travelling to and fro each Sunday.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Laurence. Yes, all of these photos are from the recent journey, which in itself I found fascinating while putting them together. It’s easy to forget how wonderfully diverse the British landscape can be in such a small area. The images brought back to me how varied how days were, how specific the paths were in relation to the topography. But like you, I’m always on the lookout for those modest paths as well, the ones that serve a more common purpose and place. I can just imagine the one you describe by the ruined church, the sound of footalls at dusk still there after centuries.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  13. I remember another breast-cancer survivor talking to us at a Reach for Recovery meeting. We don’t have to find the way. Our path is not so difficult, others have been this way before, made a path for us, and we follow in their footsteps. And as we follow, we in turn clear the path for those who follow us.

    1. Many thanks for this very personal and inspiring addition to the post, Diana. I think you’ve articulated a deep sense of continuity and community, that paths are also places where we’re able to share, regardless of how alone or difficult they may seem. Thanks for this reminder, and hope all is well with you, my friend.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  14. I have floated through the path of this post for a second time now and both times I have had difficulty staying on it – not through the writing for sure: that is engrossing and flowing and completely sweeps me away. It is the images and then the comments that take me off into worlds for new exploration. I have listened to Hank Williams, looked up Richard Long and Hamish Fulton and marked ‘Wild’ to read.

    But mostly, while taking in the largest view of each image that will fit on my screen, I have contemplated the stark differences between my world and the one you describe of paths “taking us alongside stone walls still standing after centuries alone and past hedges twined like lover’s arms, or over stile and amber brook”.

    Here, I avoid paths except for those made by wildlfe, appearing and disappearing among the undergrowth. Paths for me, if not those made of cement created primarily to keep people out of the way of traffic, mean muddy and often garbage strewn trails gouged and continuously slashing into and through adjacent bush by ATVs and the industrial machine. It has only taken just over half a century for machines to open these ubiquitous wounds in the landscape, never allowing them to heal.

    I would welcome the paths as those you so sensitively photographed as entry into and safe ways through the wilderness, but they don’t and perhaps could never exist since the walking tribes are gone and the machine troops don’t ever expect to leave. And so I bushwhack, a slower-going but more peaceful mode of exploration. How I would love the opportunity to join such a path as you describe and simply walk and walk, roll along like unraveling wool, until I have embraced the whole country, from coast to coast.

    (Oh my goodness, please forgive my taking up so much space here. Your work does that to me.)

    1. No need to worry about taking up space! I consider it to be expanding the range and depth of the post, and you bring some crucial and important ideas to the table here, Cindy. What you have to say about paths in your neck of the woods really fascinates me. It took me a long time to work out the differences – and many still elude me – that exist in the relationship to land between the UK and North America. One is essentially a private affair while the other is more public. The rights of way system that exists in Britain is a remarkable testament to what remains of common land, that access in many places is legislated to be open. That’s certainly not the case everywhere, and battles over access continue to be waged and thwarted. To stray from some paths is to cross into a private domain, but it is also a system which appeals to the needs of various communities – farmers, grouse-hunters, walkers. And the vast majority of these paths are off-limits to any kind of motorised traffic; in fact even horses are can only use certain paths.

      But, like you, I’m also drawn to animal paths, those wonderful grooves and furrows made at night or beneath a tangle of leaves. They can take us somewhere else, out of ourselves in a sense, and put us in touch with a world we rarely dwell in. I would avoid those human paths as well, after reading your description, so if you ever have the chance to travel to the UK I think you’d find the paths there immensely rewarding and suitably enriching.

      Hope this finds you well, and on a path as I write…

      Best wishes,

      Julian

  15. There is something about a horizon that disappears at the end of a meandering, nameless path. At its widest part, there is familiarity – the spot where you place your first step. As you wander on, wonder lands on your shoulder like a bird – accompanying you as you walk towards that invisible, unknown distance.

    1. You’re so precise in the particulars of your reply, Aubrey, which is what makes them such a delight to read, as always! I’m looking forward to my next foray, and especially to the moment when “wonder lands on my shoulder like a bird.” Such a lovely, lovely phrase. Thanks for dropping by!

  16. I’ve been looking forward to reading this from the moment I saw it posted and finally found the time to sit still and enjoy it and enjoy it, I did. This resonated quite deeply with me. Paths, both real and figurative, wind their way around me all the time, especially lately.

    From a purely practical perspective, I’m enthralled by the images from your trip. It astounds me the lengths the UK have gone to to maintain these centuries-old right of ways. Some remind me of deer tracks through the woods, worn down by generations of footsteps, but in the case of your trail, I’m assuming there is some active maintenance involved and that is just awesome to me.

    There’s something so inviting about a good trail to me. It awakens a deep need for exploration that I find so hard to ignore because while I definitely want to know where a path leads, I’m also very much interested in what I discover along the way. I think this is why I’m doing more and more work developing paths that interpret the journey for those who might not be quite as observant.

    This was a beautiful post that makes me more than ever want to take a trip similar to yours.

    1. Thanks, Heather! So pleased this post spoke to you. It’s a good question about maintenance, and truth be told I don’t have an answer to it. There must surely be some, but many of the paths I suppose are maintained by the passage of feet, keeping clear a way. But also, there are stretches where the paths have been re-routed due to erosion. There really is a walking culture that brings so many to the hills and moors and meadows, which isn’t always good in terms of environmental damage, but is such a joy to see and experience. That people walk for pleasure. It’s certainly not something that happens where I live now!

      I think you’d really love a journey like this; it was ultimately such an expansive experience, clearing a way inside as much as in the outdoors.

      Hope this finds you enjoying those paths around the lake!

      Best wishes,

      Julian

  17. Lyrical and evocative, I have always enjoyed walking, even when standing still, sometimes treading new paths, sometimes familiar ones; indeed some of my best memories and adventures have involved paths (now I come to think of it).
    I was put in mind of Rebecca Solnit and notice you have mentioned her in a reply (somewhere up above) but your style is sensual and well pitched, the well-chosen photos adding an extra dimension to the words.

    1. Many thanks, beeseeker! “I have always enjoyed walking, even when standing still…” Beautiful, and so true that connection between the external and the interior. To walk in the mind, to think with our steps.

      Thanks for your generous words. Hope this find you well, and on a path, either inside or out.

      Cheers,

      Julian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.